Jack Baur calling? I don't have time for this

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My wife and I have been watching a lot of 24 – and I really do mean a lot. It’s like a sickness. We’re on season five, having watched the previous two series in next to no time. On a normal night we do three episodes back to back, at the weekend sometimes four or five.

I can’t tell you much about the plots because they’re all merging into one: terrorists, double crossing, conspiracies, adrenaline ... so much adrenaline in fact it’s affecting my sleep. Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer pops into my dreams with alarming frequency; although it’s not really Bauer, it’s me in Bauer’s body, demanding real-time updates, shouting “I don’t have time for this” to anyone who will listen. 

I sit up sweating, convinced Jack and I have only seconds to save the world. 

Anyway, the other night in a break between episodes my wife noticed she had a text message from my work mobile. It said: “My bro in law found this phone on the bus, believe it may be your partner’s, battery low, contact me.” 

I hadn’t even realised it was missing but had the obvious first thought: “These are terrorists, this goes right to the heart of government, I can’t trust anyone.” I switched off the living room lights and got my binoculars out: no snipers on the roofs of the opposing tenements, but no time to think. I called and got my voicemail. The battery must be dead. WTF? 

Without recourse to contacts who could reposition satellites, I was on my own. An hour passed without any leads before my pal Zish called from Edinburgh. “Some guy just called about your phone, he’s given me this number ...” 

I scribbled it on a Bank of Scotland envelope and dived across the floor, just in case. I rang, left a message – nothing. “This goes deeper than we thought,” I told my wife. The next morning my wife got another text: “I’ll be on numbr 38 soon. Take ths phone. Get on bus outside Co-Op.” How did he know my stop?

I ran down the stairs two at a time, ready for hostiles, and bolted up the road to the bus stop. Who was this texter? Did he know me? Judging by the state of my phone – cracked screen, memory card hanging out, Sellotape – he’d be forgiven for thinking I was a crystal meth addict, not a trained journalist/government agent prepared to go to any lengths to recover company property. 

I stood at the bus shelter, pumped, watching a (possibly- undercover) woman picking her nose. Bleepbleep: “Just got on at Craigend. Single deck 38. 10 mins. Sitting at fire exit door, wearing purple tie x.” 

A traffic helicopter buzzed overhead. Back off, I thought. If he sees you he’ll know something’s up. I don’t have time for this. Bleepbleep: “Pssng Alxndra prk, 2 mins. R U ther?” I tried texting back on my wife’s phone but someone had clearly hacked into her server and switched on the predictive text messaging function. I typed OK but it kept coming up as MON. 

When the 38 appeared, I checked the gun/Sainsbury’s banana was still in my coat pocket. As the doors creaked open a new wave of adrenaline hit me. The driver’s digital watch read 9.59 and 55 seconds. Then I saw it: a purple tie, a raised hand, my ... phone. But just before reaching the hostile the music fired up. Oh shit, I thought. It’s a frigging cliffhanger.


First published in The Sunday Herald.